What to Do About Disruptive Behaviour Part Four

Disruptive Behaviour 4

What to do about… Disruptive Behaviour: Part 4

In the final part of our serialisation, we will continue to look at how to change disruptive mood and behaviour in the classroom, focusing on curriculum management, code of conduct and some quick fix measures.

Part 3b: Changing Disruptive Mood and Behaviour

Curriculum Management

If the curriculum is unbalanced in content and pace, disruption may result.

Lesson preparation and teaching style are vital issues in relation to children’s conduct.

Curriculum Content

If the content of the curriculum is unbalanced it can trigger disruption. If a lesson with the potential for boredom takes place it may spark trouble spots. A lesson with less stimulating content could be offset with one where the content is lively. This would leave the class and the teacher feeling energized.

When a lesson is fairly heavyweight, with new concepts being introduced, which demand a high degree of attention, it is unrealistic to plan a subsequent lesson requiring the same attention span. If attention can drop a little, there will be less likelihood of disruption.

The pace of the curriculum also requires consideration if disruptive behaviour is to be minimised. Changes of pace within the lesson will maintain interest and motivation.

When individuals are working, their ability to stay on task may lessen. Some children, like adults, need to change in order to boost energy and complete the task at hand. Sometimes a change of pace is all that is required.

Drawing the class together to discuss how they are getting on, explaining the obstacles and suggesting ways forward may be the solution. The promise of a pleasurable activity at the end of the task may also spur them on!

Lesson Preparation

Good lesson preparation can reduce disruptive incidents. When the teacher is confident about the lesson’s objectives and clear about the teaching strategy, the atmosphere is more likely to be stimulating. Having the necessary resources at hand contributes to a well-prepared learning environment. Needless to say, when the teacher feels confident and optimistic about the planning, it will be conveyed to the class.

Honest evaluation will reveal disruptive pockets of behaviour and enable the teacher to pinpoint the trouble spots. This evaluation will inform future lesson planning and preventative action can be taken.

If the teacher is motivated and energized, children will pick it up – it becomes infectious. Similarly, the opposite is true: Being in the company of people who feel drained has a draining effect.

Code of Conduct

When there is a code of conduct which has been negotiated between the teacher and the class it can help to minimize disruptive behaviour.

Setting up an agreed code of conduct in the classroom may be a priority already for some teachers. However, two significant areas can be overlooked:

  • Involvement of the class
  • Process of setting values

Involving of the Class

Time, negotiation skills and persistence are needed when working with the class on such a code. It means inviting them to contribute their opinions and feelings to a process which will result in agreed conduct.

The end product may be a simple as the following outline:

Disruptive Behaviour: Code of Conduct

Although the above example appears simple, it will have taken time to draw up this statement that the class can adhere to. Work will already have been done finding out what respect means and, practically, what it means to care for possessions, particularly when they belong to someone else. Also, there will have been discussion about the value and meaning of learning. If children perceive its value, a more co-operative environment will be created.

It may be useful to initiate such a discussion with key questions such as:

  • If you were choosing a friend how would you like him/her to behave towards you?
  • What is your most treasured possession?
  • What would be the worst thing that could happen to it?
  • What happens when you are in a lesson you don’t like?

Value as Part of Conduct Setting

The second potentially overlooked area is the importance of setting values and taking ownership of them. The teacher may feel that honesty, for example, is an important human value and may encourage the class to be truthful. However, when no discussion has taken place as to whether honesty is a value that the class want to adopt, it can become an imposed value rather than an owned one.

When children do not take responsibility for their own values, but rather experience them as imposed they can feel controlled. Hostile, defiant or confused behaviour may result.

Arriving at a place of ownership of values requires on-going discussion, even fierce debate! Value setting does not have to be done in one go: it’s usually something that takes time to evolve. On an encouraging note, it’s amazing how much is accomplished through this sort of open discussion and exchange of ideas.

One of the most useful tactics for encouraging the adoption of a value is for the children to discuss how they feel when they experience the opposite value: in this case, when they are lied to. Compare this with how they feel when they experience the actual value: being told the truth.

However, it is one thing having a discussion in class about honesty, and another getting someone to own up when they’ve done something wrong and want to lie to save their skin!

To go a step further with the class, discussion could even produce a discipline procedure to apply when the code of conduct is not kept. Posing questions like: “What do you think should happen when a class member hits or pokes another person in class?” could lead to the production of their own code of discipline.

Discussion doesn’t always have to involve the whole class at once. Carefully selected groups could work together for one hour long sessions to come up with their answer to the question above. They could tell the rest of the class their suggestion. Again, the purpose of such a task is to encourage personal ownership of the code. It is important to remember that when discussion is open, and when suggestions cover a wide range of options, it is necessary to establish a decision-making procedure. For example: if the class disagrees about the discipline needed for hitting or poking etc., it is important to have a predetermined strategy. The class could take a vote and go with the majority, or the teacher could decide.

If meaningful discussion can take place where children feel they can be involved in formulating a code of conduct, they are more likely to remember it and apply it personally. They will be taking responsibility for their own attitudes and actions, achieving self-regulation, as opposed to the teacher constantly having to take that responsibility.

It may well be that the code of conduct could be used as a basis for involving parents in behavioural management. They may agree to using aspects of the classroom code for home conduct too. Going a step further, it may be possible to set up code of conduct sessions with groups of parents and children to jointly work out a home/school code of conduct. A home/school contract may be drawn up as a result.

Quick Fix Measures

Short term strategies seek to affect the disruptive mood and behaviour in a way that is immediate and spontaneous and aim to be a ‘quick fix’.

Self Check

The purpose of a “self check” is to provide a meaningful self-evaluation procedure, which will interrupt the disruptive mood and behaviour. Its goal is to develop self-awareness, so that individuals can detect their own personal triggers and take responsibility for change.

The example self check questionnaire below could be given to the person concerned.

Disruptive Behaviour - Self Check

Calming Measures

Bringing about a change of mood can head-off disruptive behaviour and provide a strategy for dealing with it when it occurs.

Activity Changes

In life generally, mood can be changed by different activities: feeling down can be alleviated by exercise. Similarly with children, their mood can be changed by different activities. Sometimes a change of pace or going out to play will do it. A key to averting ‘disruptive’ problems is familiarization with children’s moods and behaviour patterns.

When a teacher senses that an individual’s coping mechanism is under pressure it’s more helpful to intervene and relive their stress rather than push the individual beyond their limits.

Time Away

Time away can be helpful in diffusing a disruptive incident. A quiet corner could be established for time away. Another teacher may be willing to offer support in allowing time away in their classroom.

Active Valuing

This can include listening, verbal praise, encouragement and physical attention – a smile or eye contact.

Acknowledging Feelings

It cannot be emphasized enough, how significant it is for the teacher to acknowledge feelings and learn the skill of empathy. A statement as simple as “You seem upset, Amit”, can help the individual enormously and diffuse potential difficulties. It’s not always necessary to add more. However, a further comment may be beneficial: “If you still feel upset at the end of the lesson, Amit, and want to talk about it, I will be glad to listen”.

Peer Support

A research project in Leeds, developing peer support in selected primary schools, proved to be effective. Peer support lessons took place to help 10 year olds develop skills in listening and supporting younger children who had worries regarding making friends, school work and getting on with their parents. Children being chosen for training had already shown signs of the necessary skills. Groups of up to six children met, without a teacher, for 20 minutes a week. Over a ten week cycle, children in these groups can discuss anything bothering them. The children were being trained in keeping confidences. However, they could alert teachers to more serious issues. Developing a simple and appropriate structure for peer support may alleviate some of the issues that give rise to disruptive behaviour. However, it is important to have necessary checks and balances in place.

Concluding Comment

“As a society we are increasingly recognizing that an individual’s capacity to perform (in sport or at work) depends largely on how they feel about the situation they find themselves in.”

Briefing Resources T.E.S

This comment identifies the importance of feelings related to outcome. Behavioural management can overlook the significance of working with underlying feelings to achieve the desired changes.

This series of blogs seeks to address some of these more hidden issues, so that relentless draining disruptions can be worked with in creative and effective ways. If the skills and strategies outlined are to become useful in the teacher’s repertoire, they require familiarization. It may be helpful to pin up key principles or phrases as a reminder.

If this content can be consistently applied, enhanced relationships will result. If individuals feel increasingly understood and secure within consistent boundaries, trust will be reduced and a more pleasurable learning environment will be created.


The copy in this blog post was taken from the book ‘What to do about… Disruptive Behaviour’ written by Judith Warren and published by Primary Teaching Services.

To download a PDF copy of the entire Disruptive Behaviour guide, please email us at chat@primaryteaching.co.uk

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